Post Lot Text
A wide variety of object types bearing both symbolic and decorative motifs worked in brightly colored porcupine quills dyed with natural dyes constitute an art form unique to various indigenous peoples of North America. From eastern tribes, robes, leggings, moccasins, garters, and numerous pouch and bandolier bag types are counted among the articles on which literally dozens of quillwork techniques are applied.
The pictorial and geometrical motifs in a number of quillwork techniques and colors on this pouch are subject to spirited discussion as well as diverse interpretations. Convincingly portrayed, as stated in the collection history, are the respective nationalities of the two figures--an American soldier on the left confronting a British "redcoat" on the right. Accordingly, the scene depicts a belligerent situation, for each figure brandishes a sword and holds a flag of the contested region--either the original American Colonies, or (if the War of 1812 is depicted) the already independent United States of America.
Furthermore, each figure is portrayed faithfully in his country's style. The American wears a chapeau de bras, an archaic French term roughly translated as "an arm hat," so-called for the European custom of at times carrying the hat fashionably in the crook of the arm. This unique two-pointed hat is commonly referred to as "bi-corn" (two corners) for its two points. The United States military employed the style perhaps as early as 1787, and it was in full use and prescribed in official regulations by 1800. Incidentally, Lewis and Clark both wore bi-corn hats, and described them in their journals (See: Howell and Kloester, 1969, pp. 1-8). The top hat genre of headgear worn by the redcoat depicted on the pouch was also typical for the British military of the period. In addition, the figures' tailcoats characteristically fit closely, the shoulders surmounted with epaulets. Other details include the fingers of their hands, feathers in the hats, and ties or pompoms at the boot tops.
Originally this pouch was most likely worn with a strap or sash in bandolier fashion, the pouch falling on the wearer's hip. Of the limited number of known similar examples that survive, two retain a quilled, cord like band, and two have narrow, quill decorated sashes still intact. The characteristic trapezoidal shape of these pouches is ingenius, for when square or rectangular bandolier bags with larger openings are worn across the body the pouches gape open (unless a flap is present and secured, as was sometimes the case). The narrow opening of a trapezoidal pouch remains closed when worn, the contents safe inside.
Benson L. Lanford
March 1, 2002